Heart Attack and Surefire [Wollemi NP, Australia]

Mon Party (4): Michael Blair, Scott Miller, Dirk Schneider, and I
Tue Party (2): Michael Blair, and I
Photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/uKUH3mPnFDm7PMjD7

[Hear Attack] was first identified on an NPA bushwalk led by Ted Daniels in 1974, and subsequently descended in January 1976. It received its name as the party was woken on the steps of the Bell Cafe by someone looking for a phone to call for help for a heart attack victim.

[Surefire] was named after a Tom Williams comment that he knew of a «surefire canyon». The attempt on that trip was aborted due to rain and other problems. It was first descended by Tom Williams, Dave Noble, Ted Daniels and Tony Haigh in October 1976.

Michael and I had been talking about visiting these canyons some time ago, but with the days still short, we’d delayed the trip. With summer here it was now time.

We posted it up as a SUBW trip recruiting a couple of others for Monday. However when Monday came, I wasn’t asleep at the Deans Ck gate as planned…
With my parents, I’d just been out canyoning in the Bungleboori. Our exploratory trip hadn’t gone quite as planned… we’d exited the last ck in the dark and only returned to our gear cache a little after midnight. Mum had a Christmas presentation that she couldn’t miss so we had a long night ahead of us. I was super tired and needed a nap. I calculated that we could just squeeze in one hour of sleep. I crawled into my sleeping bag quickly finding sleep and all too quickly rising again. Pushing on through the darkness we got back to the car at 6am and was home by about 7am. I was supposed to be meeting the others for Heart Attack at 7! Throwing a couple of items into my car I was back on the road and driving again up onto the Newnes Plateau. No rest for the wicked. Breakfast consisted of half a packet of lamingtons. Driving through Lithgow I got a call from Scott who said they where happy to wait for me. Dirk wasn’t there yet. As it turned out Google Maps didn’t know how to reach the pin I’d sent out to everyone as a meeting place. This may have bought me a little time but it was still -without a doubt- me that held the group up. Sorry guys…

I hadn’t seen Scott in a very long time. Maybe caving in NZ? Dirk I’d seen last when walking out to The Island. I’d been on quite a few trips with Michael recently though a hand injury meant that it also hadn’t been that recent: I think a couple of canyons on Deans Ck.

Enjoying a couple of oranges courtesy of Scott, I dumped out the contents of my pack and culled the gear pertaining to an overnight trip and was quickly ready to go. I happily relinquished the 50m rope to Dirk (Michael carried the other) and we were soon off down the old FT. I was surprised that Scott was in his steel caps!
A couple of ks in we stopped to make a quick decision… should we follow the main FT which was clearer and turn off later? or, turn off now onto the more overgrown but shorter route? In the end we followed Tom Brennan’s notes and turned off. It was certainly overgrown, but still easy to follow. We turned off again soon passing Murrays Mount («a small basalt peak, that used to be a farm. It had been formerly occupied as a permissive occupancy» before the 70’s). At the end of the road we took a compass bearing and dropped down into the ck. Stopped by cliffs we dropped into a small gully to abseil (~25m) down through a nice slot. Michael found a dyneema sling around a tree – we weren’t the first.

There was then a LONG creek walk down to the start of canyon. I don’t think I’d enter in this high again. I’d visited Heart Attack once before, but can’t remember where we entered. After seeing a tiger snake(?) and a brief rest beneath some ferns for morning tea we pushed on to the famous first abseil. This was the only spot I remembered from my previous trip. The tree I abseiled from last time was burnt and lying across the large chock stone. Someone had built an anchor high on a much smaller tree in the middle of the rock. We sat on a rock enjoying lunch in the warmth before dropping into the canyon. Michael set up the pitch and I went last taking photos of the others descending. When I was on rope I locked off a couple of times to admire my surroundings. It truly was a spectacular abseil. At the bottom Scott pulled me away from a broad-headed snake resting on a log.

Deep, wide and spectacular canyon followed. The deepest pools only a wade as we continued downstream. An owl rested knowingly in a tree and spirited itself away on silent wings when I wasn’t looking. An awkward climbdown using some slings and we soon reached the next abseil down amongst some logs. I actually remembered this pitch, though there seemed to be fewer logs than last time.

The canyon wasn’t very long and we soon reached the exit ck. Scott’s knee was giving him a bit of grief. We still had a ways to go, but at least the exit was fairly straightforward: a couple of easy ramps saw us out of the creek. Another ‘snake’ was spotted. It was quite pretty. Grey head, upper half light brown and the lower the same grey (for me that was six snakes in 2 days now, each one a different species)(EDIT: Michael later IDd this as a legless lizard).

We followed the ridge back to Murrays Mount and retraced the morning’s route back to the cars. Dirk was soon on his way. I set up my tent to get some sleep. Scott hopped into Michael’s car for a run into Lithgow for a feed. They woke me several hours later and I enjoyed a pizza by the fire. I gobbled the whole thing down.

In the morning Michael and I got ready for another day. I admitted to Scott that I’d like a ‘rest day’ too. He couldn’t join us because of his knee. After 5k’s we reached the three way junction (an old «drill site and bit of a depot for the drillers. The drillers had a camp a kilometre or so to the east«). Veering into the bush we quickly located the most hidden/overgrown road branching from the junction – an old mine survey/drilling road. Reaching the end we dropped a couple of rocks down the shaft and scrambled without complication into the ck.

Around 1977, there was an extensive drilling program in the area. Coal mining was planned. Roads were pushed into drill sites in many places. Many of these roads still remain – the road that heads out to Tigersnake Canyon, the road above Galah Canyon and also the road heading out on the plateau between the branches of Surefire Canyon.
In the early 80’s the Wran government protected the area as Wollemi National Park and plans for mining were abandoned. Thank goodness! The area remains wild.


The obvious anchor tree at the start of the canyon was showing signs of use so we installed a new anchor with rap ring. Michael’s 17m rope was the perfect length, a biner block letting us use pull cord on the other side.

I led the two shorter pitches that followed. It looked like the latter ended in deep water but it was actually quite shallow. The canyon was very impressive and some interesting fractures in the rock turned the canyon in abrupt 90deg corners. I’d told Michael it was a ‘surefire’ quality canyon… not that I could remember much from my last visit over six years ago.
Michael led the next pitch. It dropped into what looked like deep water and followed an obvious joint fracture in the sandstone. To my surprise it wasn’t deep, but after chimneying down a narrow drop the walls belled out too far and there was an extremely short swim; just a couple of strokes. Michael had commented at the top of the first pitch that he was putting layers on for the canyon whilst I was taking them off. I’d gone topless for the canyon and actually remained quite warm. Even after the ‘swim’ I dried off really fast soon putting on a jumper.

Leaving our packs at the exit canyon, we wandered downstream until the canyon had pretty much ended. I’d love to continue following this creek down to the Wolgan at some point, but we returned to our packs and continued out the side canyon. On the way we passed two mustard belly snakes with the distinctive mustard ring around their necks (snakes 7 and 8!). They were together so we wondered if they were mating?

I had vague recollections of the exit. I was keeping my eye out for it but still missed the spot. We reached the waterfall further up the canyon and retreated back until we found what looked like the easiest place to exit. Michael led the way. First up some tapes around threads between layers of sandstone, then up a tree. The final bluff was harder to surmount… there was a rope dangling down over a fairly high bit of cliff – we didn’t really want to exit there. Continuing along the ledge back towards the main ck, Michael spotted me up a short climb and then I helped him up from the top. I couldn’t remember it being so tricky. [EDIT: I talked to Phil after the trip. He recalled the last bit being up a tree. Has it fallen or been burnt? Or maybe we just missed it. Who knows!]

We scrub bashed for a bit, continued along the cliff line and finally found nice walking in the creek bed. It was mostly dry and the shade was welcome as the sun was fairly strong. We passed an amphitheatre that I think might have been where Mum left her helmet last time we visited this canyon – and I had to go back to retrieve it for her…
Not much further on we spotted what looked like a possible exit. We thought we’d give it a try. Scrambling up the first bit we found a fun, narrow slot that gave us access to the plateau, and then a short walk to the rd. An easy walk saw us back to the cars and we soon hit the road. I wasn’t really looking forward to work the following day…

Thanks for a fun trip guys!

Post Notes:

  • Scott contacted me after I got home. He’d left his boots at the gate… I had a look for them early the following Sat and couldn’t find them.
  • Talking to Phil after the trip, he told me they’d seen 13 snakes visiting one canyon! That sure put my 8 in three days to shame. But the special thing about the ones I saw is that they were all different species (except for the pair of mustard bellies of course).
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